PARIS, Jan. 29 (Xinhua) -- "We will do everything we can to avoid a new lockdown," said French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Friday when announcing a new raft of tighter restrictions including border control to contain COVID-19.
Speaking after a defense council on the epidemic, Castex admitted that "the question of confinement is a legitimate one" as "the development of (the virus) variants poses a high risk of accelerating the epidemic."
"But we know the very heavy impact (of lockdown) for French people. We believe that we can still give ourselves a chance to avoid it," he said.
In a bid to complement a nightly curfew, which "produces real effects but insufficient," France would close borders to non-European Union countries except for essential travel starting from Sunday.
"Any entry into France and any exit from our territory to or from a country outside the European Union will be prohibited, unless there is a compelling reason, from 00:00 on Sunday," he said.
All visitors from other EU nations would have to show a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test except for cross-border workers, Castex said.
Non-food shopping malls with a surface area of more than 20,000 square meters will be closed, and police controls will be intensified against people breaking the curfew and testing will be reinforced, he added.
"Our duty is to do everything possible to avoid a new confinement and the coming days will be decisive," Castex said. "Let's be very vigilant."
France went into a strict national lockdown from March 17 to May 11 2020 to contain the first wave of the epidemic. From the end of October to mid-December, a less strict lockdown was put in place. On Jan. 16 2021, the curfew in force since mid-December was brought forward by two hours.
Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, France has lost 75,620 people to the virus, the seventh highest death toll in the world, with 820 new deaths recorded in the past 24 hours alone, the country's health authority said on Friday.
Also in the 24 hours, the country registered 22,858 new infections, taking the caseload to 3,153,487. The number of patients hospitalized went up by 142 to 27,308, with the number of those in intensive care increasing by 19 to 3,130.
Like other European countries, France also faces delays in deliveries of vaccines like Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. The government predicted that in February only one million people would receive the first of two necessary vaccine doses, after more than 1.4 million in January.
As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, vaccination is underway in some countries with the already-authorized coronavirus vaccines.
Meanwhile, 236 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 63 of them in clinical trials -- in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain and the United States, according to information released by the World Health Organization on Jan. 26.